"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Why "Art Cloth?" - A Guest Opinion

Marie-Therese Wisniowski is an artist, lecturer and writer from Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia. She recently wrote this essay in response to a review published in the Winter Edition of the Surface Design Journal. I felt it was worth printing in order to share her ideas with an audience beyond the SDA membership.

Art Cloth was a term coined by Jane Dunnewold at the dawn of this century. Since then it has been widely used to embrace a myriad of “Art” that utilizes cloth as its medium. Jessica Hemmings in reviewing – ArtCloth: Engaging New Visions (an exhibition in which I was the curator) questioned whether the term Art Cloth was necessary, since she thought that “...textiles provide a rich medium for sophisticated communication of conceptual ideas. But I don’t think that textile needs yet another name” [1]. My answer to her assertions is that as much as I respect Jessica’s opinion, I disagree with her viewpoint on this matter.
The history of art is one of continual change. Art is dynamic and so serious philosophical questions have been raised as to whether or not it can be logically defined, identified or even classified [2]. There are numerous philosophical treaties exploring these ideas [2].

There are three basic ingredients (as opposed to definitions) that all artworks possess. When “engaged” they are non-functional, and aesthetic. “Engaging” is an important ingredient, since an unknown buried work is not art. These three conditions are “necessary” conditions and not the “sufficient and necessary” conditions that all logicians are searching for [2]. Note: I use the word “engaged” in a generic sense and so for example, that if all human species were blind we could perhaps “engage” sculpture artworks, although I doubt if water colour paintings would be in our art lexicon.

Historically what is now considered art - by individuals, cognoscenti, populous at large and by art institutions - has dramatically expanded. Furthermore, once a form of art has been accepted, like a biological cell when taken root in a particular form, it can divide and sub-divide itself into smaller sub-units.

Most areas of art are defined by doing nouns (i.e. nouns that evoke images of action): painting, sculpture, and performance art (just to mention a few). Once an area or cell of art has been loosely defined a number of sub-divisions miraculously occur. For example, let us consider the art making area of painting. It sub-divides on process (e.g. oil paintings, water colour paintings, and fresco etc.), on subject (e.g. landscapes, portraits, and seascapes etc.), on art movements (e.g. Impressionists, Post- Impressionist, and Cubists etc.) Those interested are not confused nor fear such sub- divisions or overlapping labeling. Rather their mere existence indicates a growing conscious interest, articulation and sophisticated appreciation of this form of art.

Let us define what is a textile. Basically it is defined as “any material that is woven” [3]. Clearly canvas is a textile and so technically speaking paintings on canvas, linen, velvet and silk are all textile art. Alan Sisley (Gallery Director, Orange Regional Art Gallery, NSW, Australia) is bemused that textile artists exclude canvas from their definition of their area of artistic engagement. “There is a lot of harmonious colour and thoughtful composition in this show [Engaging New Visions] . . . the same things we would praise were it an exhibition of paintings. When you think about it, canvas is also a fabric, so really what is the difference between printed or painted silk, painted canvas or paper?” [4].

The definition of “cloth” is similarly as broad, namely, “ a fabric formed by weaving, felting etc. from fibre used for garments, upholstery and for many other purposes” [3]. The same arguments could be applied against the use of “Art Cloth” as a generic identifier for artworks on fibre - other than canvas - as those that were used against “Textile Art”. There are nuances that tip me in favour of the use of “ArtCloth” in place of “Textile Art”, “Fibre Art” and “Surface Design” etc. For example, the use of “cloth” to define clothing or garments is now obsolete [3]. However, the use of “textile” or “fibre” always evokes textile or fibre design, so important for the Bauhaus school-of-thought that it was plundered by commercial needs to sell fabrics to a large and discerning market for functional use [5] (in defiance of one of the necessary conditions of artwork – its lack of functionality). Whilst its practitioners have spawned future art movements on canvas (especially in the USA) it lost its way as the poppet head of future art movements on fabrics. “Art Cloth” unlike “Textile Art” or “Fibre Art” therefore evokes the three necessary conditions (see above) that all artworks possess.

The word “Art” in general, may be considered by some (but not me!) as too broad a descriptor to attach to “Cloth” since it evokes a non-doing noun. If I had been there at the beginning of Jane’s thought bubble I would have suggested that she should consider the descriptor “Fine Art Cloth” since “fine art” now evokes - “an art form categorized as one of the fine arts, namely, those arts which seek expression through beautiful or significant modes” [3]. “Art Cloth” naturally assumes this role, even though “Fine Art Cloth” technically nails it!

The medium of cloth engages more of our physical and unconscious senses than most media used in art. In theory you can touch it, smell it and see it. The hue it offers is impossible to recreate on canvas. It is no wonder then that Leslie Rice used black velvet to paint his self-portrait to win the 2007 Australian Moran National Portrait Prize [6]. Cloth is like having available to you a Steinway rather than a harpsichord.

I am not at all fussed that Art Cloth is sub-dividing itself. I have often stated that Art Cloth works are exploring a new continent in art [6]. To take this analogy further - like any continent there will be different flora and fauna, landscapes and climates in different regions of the continent – all happening at the same time. The more mature these explorations become, the more sub-divisions appear.

Like the mature art of painting, Art Cloth can also be sub-divided on process (e.g. shibori, batik, and digital etc.), on subject (e.g. landscapes, post-graffiti, and social comment etc.), and on movement (e.g. post-modernism, abstract expressionism, and De Stijl etc.) [6]. Those interested in Art Cloth will one day identify new art movements in cloth being born, developed, appreciated and then perhaps discarded. These statements are not predictions, but rather are the artistic cycles witnessed with the exploration of any art medium.

We do not want to lose focus on what is important to us – definitions may come and go and undoubtedly, will keep art theorists and publishing houses very busy producing a vast array of tomes [2]. However, what motivates the practitioner is simply to do and to “engage” Art Cloth! Enjoy, and let those less fortunate and gifted than you argue about such nuances.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski (BFA) is a full-time artist, researcher, author and casual lecturer at the University of Newcastle (Australia). She maintains the Art Quill Studio at Arcadia Vale, NSW, Australia. She has written articles on the Art Cloth movement for scholarly journals as well as for art and craft magazines and e-zines. She gives lectures and workshops on the concept and techniques in Art Cloth. She is the curator of the - Art Cloth: Engaging New Visions – exhibition that toured Australia. She specializes in the area of Art Cloth and limited edition prints. She has created a number of silk screening techniques (e.g. “Matrix Formatting” and “Multiplexing”), which she employs in her works. Her current work explores contemporary issues and she employs dyeing, discharge, stenciling, hand painting, digital imaging and silkscreen printing to explore issues via her large format works. For more information – see http://www.artquill.blogspot.com.

[1] J. Hemmings, Surface Design Journal, Fall 2010, pages 56-57. [2] N. Carrrol, Philosophy of Art, Routledge, London (1999). [3] The Macquarie Dictionary, Third Edition, Macquarie University, NSW (1997). [4] A. Sisley, ‘Audience Cottons onto Exhibition’ Gallery Pages, Central Western Daily, Orange, 15.5.10 [5] Editor M. Kemp, The Oxford History of Western Art, Oxford University Press, Oxford (2000). [6] M-T. Wisniowski, ‘Exploring A New Continent in Art’, Crafts Arts International, Issue 73 (2008) pages 67-72.


  1. This was a great article. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. Nice Article!

    Hi, this is Dan from Creativo Surface Design. We are a textile/surface design studio located in NY. Currently we are looking for some new artists to compliment our existing talent as well as inject new design styles to our group. Currently we represent 10+ artists from around the world. We showcase to medium and large retailers and specialty stores in apparel, home furnishing, gift and paper goods. If you feel you or any of your friends/collegues may be interested in being represented by Creativo, drop us a line http://www.thinkcreativo.com/textile-designer-submission-form.html.

    Also, you can sign up for our Designers Corner newsletter to get more insight into the textile industry http://eepurl.com/bKfoD.

  3. I had the same reaction when I read that statement of textiles not needing another name. You've responded to it brilliantly here.

  4. Hi Jane
    Is it true that one of the definitions of art is that it must be non-functional? If that is the case then it really does help with the distinction between art and craft (in that craft items usually are functional items that are beautifully hand made). But it makes me wonder where items defined as "wearable art" fit in. And is a curtain made of your art cloth not a piece of art if it hangs as a curtain, but art if it hangs against a wall? Very interesting angle on that eternal debate. Thank you for making me ponder deeply as usual!

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article; thank you for sharing it!